Why is the corona virus so dangerous for autistic children (special needs children), their families and teachers?

A large percentage of children and people with autism spectrum disorder have gastrointestinal and immune system deregulation and/or problems.  Research has found that children with ASD have reduced immune system regulation, as well as shifts in their gut microbiota.

In healthy people with no gastrointestinal and immune system problems the immune system will recognize all foreign organisms which include bacteria, viruses, parasites, fungi, worms etc.  It will efficiently and rapidly destroy invaders and prevent a secondary infection from happening.  And healthy neurotypical people can immediately tell us when they are feeling unwell!

Herein lies the special needs and autism problem with the corona virus and any other illness or influenza.  Our children are already compromised from an immune perspective and very vulnerable towards infections, but they are also more often than not unable to communicate their discomfort in traditional ways.  They are unable to “talk” about feeling sick!

Many children and people with autism spectrum disorder cannot communicate “symptoms”.  They are unable to tell us when they are not feeling well or when they have headaches or feel nauseous and never once have, I heard one of my pupil’s identify exactly what could possibly be wrong from a health perspective.

In a special needs schooling environment, we often only see the illness when it is gets to “temperature” or physical vomiting stage and from all the research that I have done around the corona virus this could mean that our children could be sick long before we even realize it.

I urge all the parents at our school and all parents with special needs children to be extra vigilant during this time.  You need to keep a close eye on your child and trust you gut. 

Here is a list of a few signs that you need to look out for.  Signs that may indicate your non-communicating autistic child may be sick:

  • A change in eating habits;
  • General look of your child (eyes may appear droopy, perspiration when they have not been playing or running outside and their complexion);
  • A change is mood or general behavior changes;
  • Stool or poop changes;
  • Changes in sleeping patterns or disturbed sleep;
  • Bed wetting;
  • Increased level of stimming;
  • Change in social behavior or aggression when previously this was not a problem;
  • Biting or hitting when this previously was not a problem.
  • An elevated or more visible level of anxiety.

Our advice is that you learn to depend on your own sense of observation and the observation of those that work with – and know your child best.  If you even suspect that your child is not well then get them to a Doctor or a good check-up!  Please don’t ignore the coughs and sneezes or a behavior change just because you think it is allergies.

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Ilse Kilian-Ross

Ilse Kilian-Ross is the owner of Amazing K, a registered ECD and Partial Care Facility in Johannesburg. Amazing K is a private adhd school, autism school and therapy centre for children from age 2 - 6 years where learners receive the best of both the schooling and therapy world. The autism school offers Individualized Education Programs, Speech- and Augmentive Alternative Communication (AAC) therapy as well as a full and adapted Academic Curriculum.